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June 4, 2010 / theatregrad

Stupid Questions

My days always involve an exchange like this:

Student: I can’t find the book I want on the shelves, do you know where it is.

Me:  Ok, do you have the shelf mark?

Student: No, I don’t know that.

Me: The easiest way to find a book is to search the library catalogue.

Student: Yes I know that. Don’t you know where the book is?  Which shelf is it on?

I could say that when I was a student it seemed obvious that the first thing you would do in a library if you wanted a particular book would be to check the catalogue.  It isn’t something that we hammer home during induction but I’m starting to think we need to if students really don’t know the basics.   Of course my counter argument for this is that I’m now a librarian so I obviously have a better aptitude and understanding of libraries than the average student.

Thankfully most of the time my excellent customer service skills means that these stupid queries do not faze me.  I like to think I have the capability to handle most situations without making the reader feel patronised or stupid, because after all nobody likes a mean librarian.  But sometimes (like tonight) I’m tired and worn down, so I’m not on top form to figure out what people want without them asking me.

Earlier a reader walked over and handed me two shelfslips, filled out with illegible details and without saying a word to me.  I just looked blankly at the shelfslips and then blankly at the reader for a while.  Then I simply said, I’m sorry I don’t understand what you want.  Then the reader looked at me blankly.  She read out the titles from the shelfslips and I asked her if she needed help finding the shelfmarks.  It was only then that the reader decided to tell me that these were DPhil Thesis titles and that she would like me to collect them from the locked shelves where they are kept.  Only problem now was that she hadn’t written down the shelfmark numbers for them and I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t remember how to search our catalogue for them.   In the end the reader got the volumes and I learnt a valuable lesson about how wrong things can go if you don’t keep those customer service skills finely tuned.

Readers don’t know what information we need to do our jobs so we have to own strategies for coaxing out the necessary details.  Even if it is as basic as what on earth they are handing you a couple of filled out shelfslips for.  Next time I’m going to try to remember to use some of mine a little bit more effectively as going round in circles is not fun.

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  1. Vicky / Jun 8 2010 4:50 pm

    I’m a graduate trainee at the moment and I loved reading this last post. We get the same thing with students all the time. Most of the time I manage to get by fine and help the students but every so often I feel like crying. They have countless sessions showing them how to find information. However it’s better that they come to the librarian and ask rather than not getting the information. I just need to remember this when a students asks me for the 50th time if I can just tell them where a book is.

    • theatregrad / Jun 22 2010 9:46 am

      Glad you enjoyed my post. Whenever I start to feel frustrated by hopeless students I try to think back to when I was at university (which was only last year!), I try to remember how massive the information sphere is when you have no idea where to begin with work and have the pressure of deadlines stressing you out.

  2. woodsiegirl / Jun 28 2010 1:31 pm


    I know I’m a bit late coming to this one, but just wanted to say that everyone feels like that sometimes! I know I’ve had days when I’ve come off an enquiry shift not having been able to solve a single problem, and just feel like I’m absolutely crap at my job.

    Stupid questions from rude people really don’t help (my favourite was at my old job, the number of students who would just thrust a pile of books at you and stare blankly – we did issues and returns at the same desk so didn’t know which they wanted until they said! One time I asked “are you taking these out or returning them” and got the bewildered response “What’s the difference?”!), so I get that it’s difficult to stay 100% customer-service focused when dealing with these types of queries. I find a quick rant in the staff room after a difficult shift works wonders…

    Anyway, this is just my long-winded way of saying, You Are Not Alone! Hope you’ve had some better days since – I always find the good days make up for the bad. Once, I showed a lawyer how to use proximity operators in Westlaw and she actually jumped out of her seat and clapped her hands – that’s the image I try to keep in my mind when I’m haing a bad day! Hold on to moments like that, they make up for a lot :)

    • theatregrad / Jul 9 2010 12:56 pm

      I just found this comment, hidden in my spam folder so sorry if it looked like I wasn’t responding to it!

      A quick rant does work wonders, used to do a lot of that in my previous job (front of house in a theatre!) where rude people are fairly common place.

      I will try to keep those good moments in mind as it so such a wonderful feeling when a customer is genuinely happy thanks to the help you have given them! Plus if all else fails many of the stupid frustrating question moments seem quite amusing when you look back on them, like the time a student asked me for ‘the snail book’ when they actually wanted Giliker on Tort.

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